Monday, April 23, 2012

From Overcapacity to One

Since February, I've had six kids in the house.  A number I never imagine I would have, since local policy states that five is the limit, and that includes biological children under 18 years of age.  The exception was made because I already had my son and one foster child when they needed placement for four siblings...and I was the only place in the county who could (or would) take them.  I didn't want them to have to switch schools, so took the plunge.
It was a busy few months, but now they are heading home.  The boy (Goofy) I had since January went home last week, to his dad, on a trial basis.  This means that the court retains custody for a predetermined period of time (usually six months) to see if the parent can remain appropriate for that child.  Before moving him, I was asked if I would be willing to take him back should the need arise.  I have been asked that several times before, but so far the parents have managed well enough.  I'm glad to have other children in his school so I can hear how he is doing, and so far the reports have been good.

Three more went home to their dad today.  This was a different situation from what I've seen before - parents were divorcing and had been separated when the kids were removed from the mother.  Dad found out and worked hard to get them back, through the CPS office.  Before family court was held to determine whether the kids would go to him or stay in care, divorce court was held (last week, same day that Goofy was removed).  That judge awarded him sole custody of his three children, but it took several more days for the order to be signed.  So, I packed them all up, sent the stuff to dad's during their weekend visitation, and hoped that word would come soon.  I got the call today, so off they went!

I still have their half-sister, and she isn't happy about it.  Daisy has turned 10 while in my care, and has gone from believing that her dad never loved her and didn't want anything to do with her (lies from her mother) to knowing that he does love her and want her...and getting weekend visitation with him!  Its a great change, and she is looking forward to it.  However, she is short-sighted and can only see that her siblings are where they want to be and she is not.  Family court was supposed to have been this week, but has been postponed, so she does have a legitimate reason to be upset.  I do hope it is only delayed a week, not a month or two, but you never can tell.

I am planning on taking a break of a few weeks after Daisy leaves in order to travel a bit and enjoy my own family without the extra noise-makers around :)  I must say, tonight has been awfully quiet!

What Foster Parents (Should) Know

You know going into foster parenting that you will not be told everything (privacy laws).  Perhaps little to nothing, if you don't learn what questions to ask.  Still, you hope that you will get a social worker who is good at communicating, not only with judges, lawyers and parents, but with you, the foster parent.

Sometimes, you do.  Sometimes, you don't.

I have had six social workers in the last 2 years for 14 children.  I have only had one child whose worker changed while I had him, which beat the odds.   (It is, unfortunately, normal to have several workers during the year or two that a child is "in care".)   I have not had any issues with any of these workers, beyond communication issues.  But really, what else is there?  The child's worker doesn't do paperwork with me (except the ONE that actually invited me to the initial planning meeting, which I'm always supposed to be at).  They are supposed to visit the child in my home once a month - and all but one has been faithful to do that.  Beyond those things, communication is all there actually is.

Below is what I've learned from experience, and most likely doesn't match the handbook, located here (scroll down and click on the Resource Parent Handbook to download the pdf).

What are foster parents supposed to be told?  This probably varies by state.

Medical and mental health history of the child (this is spotty, at best, and usually nothing)

Social worker's name, phone number, and email (not always the one who brings the children to your home - I've had times where I don't know who the worker is until the next day)

Who the bio parents are and the status of their goals/treatment plan towards reunification
(we are not normally told what the goals are, nor details on why the child was removed - but we are allowed to know how long it may take to reach the goals and if they are working on them or not)

When/where visitation is, and any changes  (and we *should* have input on the scheduling)

Any school issues and where they attend school (usually better luck asking the school directly what problems there may be, once you have a form in your hand saying the kids are now living with you)

Any past abuse and behavioral problems and what's been done about them (you have to ask)

Any upcoming appointments that will need to be kept and/or scheduled

If a relative is found, who it is, where they live, and status of that home (not suitable, pending, approved)

Court dates and times, purpose of the court and any results.  Also, whether or not the child(ren) should be present.

What paperwork should we receive?

"111a", which is signed by a supervisor and a worker and the foster parent, stating the child's name, social security number, birth-date and relevant information, as well as the TWIST number (assigned by the state and used in court/for billing)

Copy of the court's judgement (allowed but not usually received)

Copy of SS card, birth certificate

Medical authorization form or letters to show the doctor/dentist/optomitrist/psychologist before treatment

Copy of medical card(s)

Medical history, especially major surgeries, allergies and pediatrician's information

Passport (medical) Binder, in which the above information should be stored so it can follow the child wherever he may go

What other things should the foster parents get?

clothing and shoes for the child, if available

medications and applicable instructions

anything else the child needs - special toys, books, blankets...anything.

In my opinion, we should also get the parents' full names, phone numbers (if calls will be allowed), and how wary we should be of interacting with them.  This matters to me, as I am in a small town and inevitably will see them out in public at one time or another, or at least during visitation drop-offs.

Have questions about foster parenting and want to know more?  This is the forum for the National Foster Parent Association.